A Virtual Shot in the Arm

I am ashamed to say that I have not followed through on my resolve to start querying again—but now I feel that I am newly re-motivated.

This past weekend I attended an event in Dallas. In fact it was two separate events that kind of merged together: WORDfest and Writers in the Field. Writers in the Field is my favorite writer’s event of all the variety I’ve attended. It’s a hands-on research bonanza where you can learn about almost anything you might be planning to write about. I went the first year, in the fall of 2017, and last year I presented a workshop on historical writing implements there.

There was just one little problem. The venue was flooded out due to torrential rains. We had to hike in. The food truck never made it. We had a tornado warning. Therefore, some of the presenters and exhibitors were unable to present and exhibit. So yesterday (Sunday) we had a “do-over” day at an indoor venue in Dallas. I was asked to give my workshop again, which I was happy to do. I had about a dozen people attend, and they really seemed to be interested.

Since I was going to be there on Sunday anyway, I went on Saturday also, to WORDfest, an event in its third year, which I had wanted to attend the last two years. Let’s just say that next year, I’ll try to make a priority of going. It was such a massive infusion of enthusiasm and motivation.

In addition to a great schedule of classes—several choices in each time slot—there were hallways full of exhibitors, many of whom represented various writers’s groups and services in the North Texas area. Everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic. I got to vote on the Oxford Comma (I’m in favor, in case you wondered). I got to participate in a live-action game of Clue. I learned about Chinese folklore and writing fight scenes and so much more. I entered the raffle but didn’t win anything (I never do).

On Sunday, after I taught my class, I attended more classes, but since this was Writers in the Field, I also got to learn about all kinds of things, from people who are fanatics about their area of expertise. True fanatics are absolutely irresistible. I talked again to the amazing man who is an expert on the Titanic and who impersonates its captain. And the lady with the stunning collection of Victorian-era ladies clothes. A martial arts expert. A locksmith. An equestrian. An Olympic level archer. A lady weaving Viking-era trim. And did I mention that this was all FREE?

I drove home feeling so encouraged and so ready to get to work on getting my writing out there at last. This time, I really need to follow through!

 

The “BEST” Writers’ Conference

Last week while I was traveling, someone in the writing world posted a question on Facebook asking, “If you could only go to ONE writers’ conference, which one would it be?” I was too busy and had minimal time online to answer, but I did read some of the responses, and I found that they rankled a little.

Many of the responses listed the “biggest” Christian conference of all, ACFW, which I have attended three times. Others, who like me write speculative fiction, mentioned Realm Makers, which I have also attended three times, and which has become pretty big and just about as expensive as ACFW. I doubt that I will ever attend either one of these again.

Here’s why these responses rankled: if I were a novice writer fresh out of college, with a depressingly large student debt and a desire to grow as a writer, and I read those responses, I would have looked up those big conferences, would have seen how much they cost (plus staying in a luxury hotel AND transportation), and I would have despaired, knowing that such experiences were completely out of my reach.

In writing circles, people are always saying that if you REALLY want to go to a certain conference, you will find a way to make it happen. I’m sorry, but this is not true. There are any number of reasons why you might have no hope at all of getting together $1000 or more for a weekend of writing classes. Telling people it is possible when it’s not just makes them feel like failures for not being able to do it.

However, my point is that all hope is not lost. The big conferences are not the only game in town. If you have limited means, then your best bet is to look close to home. Look for smaller conferences and conferences that are relatively new. There are so many advantages to this approach:

—Smaller conferences are likely to be much more affordable. Instead of $500, you may pay $150 or less for a weekend of classes, and you will still probably get to learn from some top tier bestselling authors.

—You won’t have high transportation or lodging costs. You may be able to commute from home, or stay with a friend like I did last weekend.

—You will meet other writers from your local area and learn about writers’ groups and other resources available to you locally.

Now, it’s true that these smaller conferences will not have the wide array of publishers and agents in attendance that the big conferences have. However, over the years I have realized that many, if not most, successful authors found their agents the old-fashioned way—by querying and letting their work speak for itself. This means you can go to a conference without being under pressure to pitch your work, and can choose which agents/publishers to query at home and at your leisure.

Because of our reduced circumstances, I had assumed that I would not be able to go to any conferences at all this year. Then in December, I found out about the LoneStar.Ink writers’ conference in Dallas, a brand-new conference debuting this year. By registering before the “early-bird” deadline, I ended up paying only $115 for two full days of classes—and that amount included two “add-on” expenses of a pitch session with a publisher and a two-hour master class.

They kept expenses low by holding the conference in the Dallas public library instead of a luxury hotel. The faculty was excellent. I took classes from David Farland (one of my favorites) and J. Scott Savage (a new favorite). Only one of the classes I took left me feeling less than satisfied, but even that one was fun because the presenter was hilarious. I will totally try to go again next year.

So what I guess I’m trying to say is that the best conference for YOU to go to, is the one you can afford. Don’t feel cheated if you can’t make it to a big name conference. I have been to several smaller, local conferences now, and I have become a huge fan. In my experience, you get a LOT more value for your hard-earned money.

PS: My pitch session resulted in a request for the full manuscript. Not expecting much, but reminding myself that each rejection is a step on the way to acceptance. One of the presenters at last weekend’s conference was rejected more than 400 times before receiving an acceptance!

Also, I test-drove one of the new “lap boards” I made and it worked beautifully! I am a convert to small-format notes.

 

When Star Trek Drops a Truth Bomb

My husband and I are watching through the Star Trek: Voyager series (again) with our sixteen-year-old son, who had never seen it before. It has been an enjoyable experience, especially as we come to our favorite episodes.

Currently we are in Season Five, and last night’s episode was “The Fight,” where aliens attempt to communicate with Chakotay using boxing as a frame of reference. Boxing is a sport in which I have less than zero interest. However,  during one scene, Chakotay’s trainer says this to him: “It all comes down to the heart. Do you have the heart for this? That’s the contest. It’s not against him [your opponent], it’s against your own natural human desire not to get hurt. That’s the real fight.”

I have seen this episode at least a couple of times before (not one of my favorites), but this time the trainer’s words stopped me dead in my tracks, because they are so applicable to writing. Once you’ve written something, and you want to get it published, you find out that you are in for a world of pain (unless you are very unusual).

I get looks of disbelief from those in the industry when I admit that I have completed seven novels but still haven’t sold a single one. The reality I’ve been forced to admit is that this is due in large part to my natural human desire to not get hurt. Every time I mentally strap on my guns and gird up my loins for another round of submissions, I find out yet again that I’m just not “enough.” Over the last ten years, editors and agents have told me the following:

  • You’re not special enough.
  • You’re not funny enough.
  • You’re not Christian enough.
  • You’re not quirky enough.
  • You’re not creative enough.
  • You’re not contemporary enough.
  • You’re not American enough (my personal favorite).

After the first few years, it’s harder and harder to go back and knock on more doors, knowing that you will most likely get the same types of rejections, and knowing that your writing has improved dramatically but will most likely not be given a chance. This would be easier to take if my test readers were lukewarm about my stories, but almost all of them have really loved my stories.

The amount of resolve required increases exponentially when no one in your life believes you will ever succeed, and when you face ongoing disapproval for your dogged determination to keep trying. So my natural human desire to not get hurt has led to my neglecting the “selling” side of writing. Instead I’ve focused on writing more and better stories—but of course those stories will never see the light of day if I don’t keep sending them out.

In a little over a week, I’ll be attending a new writers’ conference in Dallas. These days, I can only afford the cheapest of conferences, and this one looks like a great value. And, despite my natural human desire to not get hurt, I have signed up to pitch one of my books to a newly-formed small press. I no longer have any expectation of success, but I am increasingly aware that failure is guaranteed if I continue to do nothing.

It brings to mind another movie quote, this time from Chariots of Fire, when Harold Abrams whines to his girlfriend, “I won’t run if I can’t win.” And she comes back with, “You can’t win if you don’t run.”

True words.